West African residents brace themselves amid attacks
23 March 2016, 21:06
Dakar - Armed police now patrol the Ivory Coast beach
where Islamic extremists killed at least 19 people earlier this month. And in
Senegal's capital, Dakar, cars are pulled over for security checks of trunks,
back seats and bags.
Across West Africa, security measures are being beefed up
following a spate of deadly extremist attacks, including the assault on Monday
on a hotel in Mali that houses a European Union military mission.
Despite the precautions, there is widespread fear over where
the jihadis will strike next.
"Of course I am scared. I am scared that these
people will continue their attacks. But this is not Islam. Islam is
peace," said Papis Sane, 42, who works at the Sea Plaza Mall in Dakar that
is popular with foreigners.
"It's God who protects ... Even with security, no
one is 100% secure."
The attacks include one on the Radisson Blu hotel in
Bamako, Mali in November, a popular hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso's capital,
Ouagadougou, in January, and the shootings earlier this month at the Ivory
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, claimed
responsibility for those attacks. Mali was targeted again on Monday when gunmen
attempted to invade a Bamako hotel where the EU training mission stays.
"Al-Qaeda was undoubtedly aware of the recent
intensification of security measures at hotels, restaurants and bars in major
cities across West Africa, including in Abidjan. Targeting a popular beach just
outside the capital illustrates how jihadist groups will almost always be able
to circumnavigate heightened defence mechanisms and find soft targets,"
said Sean Smith, an Africa analyst at Verisk-Maplecroft Risk Consultancy after
the Ivory Coast attack.
Killing civilians in cosmopolitan locations generates
fear, he said, warning that Senegal's capital may be the next target.
"Dakar represents an attractive target for jihadists
owing to its status as a regional hub for many Western businesses, UN agencies
and international NGOs," he said. "Penetrating Dakar - particularly
given Senegal's longstanding alliance with France - would constitute a major
coup for AQIM because it is perceived as being far safer than capitals in the
Sahel." Senegal also contributes more than 800 security personnel to the UN
peacekeeping mission in northern Mali, he said.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said it staged the Ivory
Coast attack as revenge against the West African country for handing over
prisoners to Mali, and as a warning to France, African and Western countries
that it will destroy security for its citizens if not left safe in their lands
in the Sahel, the region below the Sahara Desert.
Ghana also contributes troops and police officers to
operations in north Mali, and could be the first target in English-speaking
Africa, but Smith said: "For the moment Francophone countries remain at
Ahouoi Albert, who works for a youth association in Ivory
Coast, urged greater security.
"Terrorism didn't exist here before. Now it does. It
is not acceptable," he said. "We are asking the government to take
all measures to prevent this terrorism ... and the international community must
help combat this in the region."